Features, Oil & Gas Leaks

Report discredits NT fracking spin

Shenandoah frack site, Beetaloo Basin NT. Image supplied.

Fossil Fool Bulletin • 22 October 2019

A new independent expert analysis has used CSIRO findings to discredit company and government spin that promotes the expansion of the fracking industry in the Northern Territory.

The report (pictured right), written by Emeritus science professor Ian Lowe, of Griffith University, also reveals the devastating climate impacts of a fully exploited NT gas industry.

Alarmingly, Professor Lowe concludes that fracking the NT’s reserves could contribute about 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year if industry projections play out. Australia’s total domestic emissions for the most recent year – the highest ever recorded – were 560 million tonnes.

His estimates are based on Australian Government data and comparisons to the similarly sized Marcellus shale in the USA, which produces about 11 trillion cubic feet of gas each year.

Catastrophic impact on climate change

“Approving development of these resources would have a catastrophic impact on Australia’s efforts to slow climate change, and are totally incompatible with our obligations under the Paris agreement,” Professor Lowe said.

“Five years ago, the Australian Academy of Science said that in order to have a 50% chance of keeping the increase in average global temperature below two degrees, the less ambitious Paris target, global emissions need to peak by 2020 and then go steeply down.

“Given these pollution figures, it would be criminal to allow the gas fracking industry to expand across the Northern Territory.”

Professor Lowe’s report also stamps out claims by Origin Energy, and argues there is no foundation to the myth that fracked gas can be used to reduce the world’s reliance on coal and thereby decrease carbon emissions. 

The report says emissions from methane make it impossible for the fracking industry to deliver a fuel that is less damaging to the climate.

Professor Lowe said, “a paper based on measurements from an actual US shale gas field over a year which found leakage rates varying between 2.3 and 7.7%, (concluded) that the best estimate for current practice is 4%.”

He said, based on a methane emission rate of around 4%, “It is totally invalid to claim that gas production reduces the overall greenhouse gas impact of electricity generation, even when it directly replaces coal-fired generation.”

Dishonest claims from industry

“Of course, there is also no evidence that Australian production of gas replaces burning of coal; in many cases, it produces extra energy. Schanell et al conceded that it is impossible to calculate whether LNG exports reduce greenhouse gas emissions “because we do not know the proportion of gas used to displace what would have been produced from coal”.  So it is just dishonest to claim that producing more gas from Australian deposits will slow climate change.” 

Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said Professor Lowe’s report showed the gas industry’s spin for what it was.

“If the NT fracking industry is allowed to develop, it will mean bad news for the NT, Australia, and the world. Methane is up to 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and numerous reports have pointed to the spreading fracking industry as a big driver of dangerous global warming. In addition to its damaging impact on land, water, and communities, the fracking industry has a big problem with leaking, venting and flaring methane emissions,” Sawyer said.

The release of Professor Lowe’s report coincided with Origin Energy’s annual general meeting on October 16.

NT delegation confronts Origin

A delegation of Territorians rallied outside the AGM before calling for a resolution that would force Origin Energy to provide crucial documentation underpinning consent claims for its fracking projects in the NT.

“We want Origin to show its shareholders what information it presented to Traditional Owner groups before making agreements to frack,” said Ray Dimakarri Dixon, a Newcastle Waters Native Title holder from Marlinja community at the centre of Beetaloo basin drilling activity.

“We know Origin didn’t get proper, informed consent. These agreements were made back in 2004 and 2005. At the time, our old people didn’t understand how many wells would be drilled, or the risks to our land and water from fracking.”

There are concerns by pastoralists on stations where Origin began civil works last month. Within weeks of its first project approval from the NT Government, owners of the NT’s Amungee Mungee cattle station took Origin to court alleging the company breached its land access contract, and failed to consult over risks from its fracking activity that could cause significant harm to pastoral businesses.

Daniel Tapp, a stakeholder and pastoralist working with a group of landholders threatened with fracking on their properties in the Beetaloo basin, said locals had good reason to be concerned at Origin’s fracking plans.

Call for veto rights

“Pastoralists have no veto rights over mining or exploration on their properties, and we want this to change.

“What’s more, we’ve recently learned that due to omissions in the NT water and petroleum acts, landholders face the very real threat of being held liable if a fracking company fouls an aquifer while conducting drilling on our land.”

• Download the report here:


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